News / Asia

India Struggles to Bridge Economic Gap

A homeless Indian woman begs on a bridge in Mumbai (file photo)
A homeless Indian woman begs on a bridge in Mumbai (file photo)
Anjana Pasricha

Two decades ago, India opened up its tightly regulated economy, unleashing a wave of reforms that transformed the country and put it in the league of the world's fastest growing economies. But many consider the job only partially complete and say the South Asian country needs to bridge the gap between a prosperous middle class and the millions of people who still grapple with poverty.

Dramatic shift

Rajeev Nanda, a software professional, was among a wave of young people who migrated to the United States in the 1980s, because of a lack of job opportunities at home. In 2001, a decade after India opened its socialist-style economy, he returned to establish an office in Bangalore for the U.S.-based company that employed him.

Nanda found a country dramatically different from the one he had left 12 years before.

“When we went, it was a one-way ticket [to the U.S.," explained Nanda. "Then the economy opened up. The opportunities created a different mindset. Suddenly there was a lot of hope and lot of excitement in the air.”

Financial woes

The liberalization drive launched in 1991 came at a time when India was confronting a crisis. It was on the verge of defaulting on its international debt.

Manmohan Singh (file photo)
Manmohan Singh (file photo)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - then the country’s finance minister - lifted restrictions on foreign investors, relaxed stifling controls on domestic industry and slashed taxes.

The results were soon evident. India’s economy became the world’s second fastest-growing economy, after China. Led by a thriving information-technology sector, the services sector boomed. Manufacturing industries expanded. Exports flourished. A huge middle class emerged.

Economic boom

The head of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Rajiv Kumar, says the unshackling of the private sector created the economic boom.

“The most important thing in my view is to have freed the Indian entrepreneurial spirit, which is its traditional strength. It had been chained and caged prior to 1991 in the ideology of central planning and socialism etc,” Kumar said.

But, 20 years later, analysts say India’s economic revolution is only partially complete. And, some people worry that it is running out of steam.

For years, investors have waited for a second wave of reforms to open up sectors which are still tightly regulated, such as retail and insurance. Businesses grapple with lack of infrastructure, as everything from power generation to the transportation network falls short. Several Indian companies are investing overseas, rather than at home where they are deterred by problems such as acquiring land for factories.

Unequal growth

But economists say even more pressing is the problem of unequal growth. While one half of the country prospers, the other half continues to grapple with poverty. In the cities, swank, gated residential complexes and gleaming shopping malls contrast with sprawling urban slums.

Poverty is rampant in many backward, rural regions. A little more than 40 percent of the people - about 450 million - live on less than $2 a day.

P. Chidambaram (file photo)
P. Chidambaram (file photo)

Top Indian officials are confident the problem can be addressed by even faster growth. Among them is Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was formerly finance minister.

“Our biggest failure is that the pace of reduction of poverty has not been fast enough, that the growth of employment has not been fast enough," Chidambaram said. "The pace of reduction of poverty must pick up and that can only happen if growth averages over eight percent and is sustained at nine percent for several years.”

But there are worries that brisk economic growth may not be enough to address problems such as lack of access to schooling and health care for millions of Indians. Rates of malnourishment and infant mortality are among the worst in the world. Millions of children are still unschooled.

Effective governance

A top Indian economist, Swaminathan Aiyar, blames lack of effective governance for such problems.

“It is not enough to say there is some economic growth. I mean what is the condition of your schools? What is the condition of your public health? What is the condition of government services in general? That is the biggest problem that is crying out,” noted Aiyar.

Analysts also say that, in the past year, economic issues have been put on the back burner as the government focuses its energies on fighting allegations of huge official corruption. They say this has led to a policy paralysis in the government.

New focus

Minister Chidambaram says the country needs to put the focus back on the economy to realize its full potential.

“The center stage must once again be restored to growth, to change, to reforms, better governance. So the blips you see today in declining investment or more foreign outward investment, all these can be resolved…..and then outpace even China, that’s not impossible, people are beginning to talk about outpacing China,”  Chidambaram said.

Rajeev Nanda says that, two decades after liberalization, most professionals would rather stay in India than migrate to Western countries.

“In the last few years, I have seen even a reverse, where people do not want to go. They are simply having a better life, better opportunities right here,” Nanda said.

Economists say the challenge in the coming years will be to bridge the gap between the middle class and the poor, so that those living now in urban slums and the countryside can echo the same sentiment.

You May Like

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs